with picks 1-31. There's potential to strike gold in all seven rounds of the draft, but the first round always brings a wave of hyped prospects that have a chance to become the league's next superstars ... or the next disappointing busts.
Last year, there was plenty of talk about it being a down year in terms of talent in the draft class. Time will tell if that's true, but this year will bring a bunch of exciting, sought-after prospects -- including Rasmus Dahlin, a potential franchise-changing defenseman who will almost certainly go with the first overall pick.
And while Dahlin -- considered by many to be a generational prize -- stands on the top tier alone, there are a number of other very promising youngsters available behind him. These guys could be major contributors for years to come, so let's get to know some of the players who are expected to go early in Friday's first round.
Rasmus Dahlin, D
Dahlin is the consensus top pick and if he doesn't go to the Sabres at No. 1, it's because something absolutely wild went down on draft night. The 18-year-old, 6-foot-2 Swede is a two-way defenseman with an absolutely sick set of skills that eventually may make him one of the league's most dangerous blue liners. He's a very good defender and has elite skating ability coupled with good vision, but his most impressive skill might lie in his hands and stick work.
Here's a deeper look at Dahlin's strengths, courtesy of TSN's Craig Button.
He's got all the makings of a franchise-caliber defenseman, and Buffalo is (probably) going to be lucky to have him.
Andrei Svechnikov, RW
The Russian winger is the top forward of the class and is expected to be selected with the No. 2 pick behind Dahlin. Svechnikov scored 40 goals and 72 points in 44 games for the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League this season, earning him OHL Rookie of the Year honors. He's a dangerously skilled offensive threat, but he also plays a strong two-way game and -- at 6-foot-2 -- is a big body who can bring physicality and drive the net. He's a pretty well-rounded player.
Filip Zadina, LW
The Czech winger is a dynamic offensive force with a deadly scoring touch. He's got great puck control and a phenomenal release on his shot. But he's also a two-way player with a high hockey IQ both on and off the puck. Zadina scored 44 goals and 82 points in 57 games with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League this season. He also impressed at the World Junior Championships against the world's best U-20 talent, scoring seven goals in eight games for the Czech Republic.
Dahlin and Svechnikov are expected to be the two "sure things" in this year's class, but Zadina is also considered to be an all-around stud that could have an immediate impact in the NHL.
Brady Tkachuk, C/LW
Tkachuk is one of the more popular prospects in this class, thanks in part to his skill and in part to his genes. He's the son of Keith Tkachuk and the younger brother of Calgary Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. The 18-year-old brings a valuable combination of size and skill, and he has an extremely high motor. He's relentless on the puck -- a strong forechecker who has great ability to pressure the puck and force turnovers. He's not afraid to get physical and establish his presence down low in the offensive zone, and he's got good vision and finishing ability.
Tkachuk had eight goals and 31 points in 40 games for Boston University last season. He also impressed for Team USA at World Juniors, notching three goals and nine points in seven tournament games for the U-20 squad.
Oliver Wahlstrom, C/RW
The Swedish-American forward is a highly-skilled, explosive, dangerous playmaker that can set up teammates about as well as he can finish himself. He's an excellent skater and puck protector. He's not recognized as the best defensive forward, but he'll have time to work on that aspect of his game at the college level – he'll suit up for Boston College as a freshman next season. You may remember Wahlstrom as the nine-year-old who did this during the Boston Bruins' mini one-on-one competition.
Wahlstrom spent last season with the United States' national development squad, scoring 48 goals and 94 points in 62 games.
Quinn Hughes, D
Although a bit undersized at 5-foot-10, Hughes is a complete package on the blue line. He carries a high hockey IQ and strong defensive skill set that allows him to close gaps and limit opportunities for opponents, but he's also very impressive in being a facilitator offensively. He's got good speed, handles and puck-moving ability to help push play up ice, making him an exciting two-way threat.
The 18-year-old American played 37 games with the Michigan Wolverines last season, recording five goals and 24 assists as the youngest player in college hockey.
Evan Bouchard, D
The Canadian defenseman is considered to be a very good all-around defenseman with excellent hockey IQ and situational awareness. He's a strong skater and dynamic two-way player that is almost as good at shutting down opportunities in his own end as he is at creating them at the other end. He's got a admirable offensive skill set, one which shines on the rush. His poise and vision is extremely impressive, and he's got a pretty good shot as well.
Bouchard captained the OHL's London Knights last year and led the team with 87 points -- including 25 goals. Not bad for a defenseman.
Noah Dobson, D
The Canadian defenseman is a strong two-way player that projects to be a reliable and productive presence on the blue line. He's smart and has good defensive awareness, always seeming to be in the right position and is effective at utilizing his stick to limit opportunities. He's got good size and reach at 6-foot-3 and can play in all situations. He's got a big shot and can be a force on the power play.
Dobson had 17 goals and 69 points in 67 QMJHL games last season.
Joe Veleno, C
The Canadian center is a great skater with high-end skill, but he's also not afraid to show some grit and make plays in the busy areas. He's got good finishing ability but specializes in setting up his teammates. He's a smart, talented playmaker who is strong in all three zones and is viewed as a leader that makes the guys around him better. Basically, he's an all-around contributor.
Veleno scored 22 goals and 79 points in 64 games in the QMJHL last season.
Jesperi Kotkaniemi, C
The 17-year-old Finnish center has size at 6-foot-2, but he's a very skilled and lethal forward with the puck on his stick. He's got great hands and an ability to stickhandle himself into space, then finish with a nasty shot. He's also a smart and responsible player who sees the ice very well and can set up teammates and hold his own defensively. He's got a long, active stick that is effective at disrupting opponents' possession.
Kotkaniemi had 10 goals and 29 points in 57 Liiga games this year.